Do you like Middle Eastern food? I do. But I didn't go to a Break-the-Fast Ramadan dinner for the food. Honestly!
One of the Muslim* women in my Interfaith group invited all of us to attend this event at Mecca Center in suburban Chicago earlier this month. She warned us to eat beforehand because although the event started at 6pm, we wouldn't be eating until 8:23pm, when the sun set.
For some reason I didn't believe that we actually would not eat until 8:23. I thought there would be appetizers or something, drinks, and then dinner at around 8:30. Nope. This is a hardcore fast! No food or liquids (no water!) from sunrise to sunset. Meaning, during Ramadan this year (which occurred during summer solstice), there were some veeeerrrrryyy looooooong days of going without in the Northern Hemisphere.
It's NOTHING like fasts I remember from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, when we could drink water whenever and have one big meal with two smaller meals also permitted, if needed. (Since I'm a grazer, that's pretty much the way I eat anyway!)
Observant Muslims awaken before sunrise to eat a small meal (peanut butter and crackers, or cheese and an apple) and drink lots of liquids. Then there are morning prayers. Then they don't eat again until after the sun has set - and they usually start with something small, like a few dates and a few sips of water before the evening prayer, so their bodies adjust to digesting food again via a quick jolt of natural sugar before being hit with the big stuff after prayers. (I was amazed to learn this - figuring a big candy bar would be the go-to here.)
During our dinner, I asked my Muslim friends how they can do it - how can they fast that long, without even a sip of water, for over 16 hours? and function at their jobs, and do this in the heat of summer? (I would pass out.)
They told me it takes about a week for their bodies to get used to it. After that, they said, it actually feels good to go without, to practice self-constraint. The heart is in control of the body - the body is craving food and water, and the heart is saying, you can go without.
Resist your temptations.
Appreciate what you do not have.
Be grateful for all that God has given to you.
It makes me want to start fasting.
After breaking the fast, my friends invited me to pray with them in their beautiful mosque. The prayers were in Arabic and I didn't understand them, but I could feel them. Peaceful. Reverential. Grateful. We stood, and we kneeled, and we prostrated ourselves (I followed along as best I could.) My friends then stayed for a few more prayers AFTER prayers (mind you, this was after eating only two or three dates and a few sips of water in a 16+ hour period - and they prayed longer!) and then we went up to dinner.
By this time, even though I had grazed on many handfuls of nuts and dried fruit on my drive to Mecca Center, I was starving. And I hadn't even fasted! The falafel and shawarma, kefta kebobs, lamb, pita, hummus and baba ghanouj were absolutely delicious. So was the rice - and I don't like rice.
The best part of the evening was not dinner. It was demystifying something that I had only heard about, had been a little afraid of, and had unfairly judged.
Thank you, my friends, for all that you teach me.
©Catherine Borowski 2017
*I don't even remember learning about Islam in Catholic grammar school. I usually confused 'being Islam' with 'being Muslim.' (Islam is the religion, and a person who practices Islam is Muslim.)
The difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water for 8 to 10 hours is not necessarily bad for health and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.
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Live a wealthy life.
Catherine Borowski, life coach, knows that life can be messy. And it's through the mess that beauty emerges in the most unexpectedly brilliant ways.